Is Kobe Bryant's Retirement Tour Sad or Redemptive?

Fans hate seeing superstars turn mortal, but they love fond farewells.


The retirement tour of Kobe Bryant,

Mamba in winter.

the faded Los Angeles Lakers superstar, has a peculiar feel to it. An astoundingly prolific scorer and five-time NBA champion, Bryant has never exactly been popular outside of his own fanbase. And by nicknaming himself "Black Mamba" some years ago, he appears to have fully embraced his role as a formidable heel. So it's strange to see the fans who loathed him more than any other cheer him during pre-game introductions and applaud every shot he makes.

While Bryant is a shell of the player he once was, his farewell tour is selling out in arenas across the country, which flies in the face of the widely-held theory that fans can't stand seeing once-great players remain in the game long after their skills have diminished. 

In a new column at The Week, I write about "the sad spectacle of sports gods turning mortal":

Beloved superstars who stick around past their prime are often compared to "Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield for the Mets." The "Say Hey Kid" was a paradigm-shifting five-tool superstar for the New York and later San Francisco Giants, but when he finished his 22 year career with the New York Mets, he had the bad luck of playing in a nationally televised World Series game, where millions of people saw him stumble as he struggled to find a batted ball dropping from a hazy sky. That one flub became a cautionary tale for sports legends near the end of their time in the game: Don't be Willie Mays stumbling around in a Mets uniform.

Few legendary athletes get to enjoy the "Goldilocks retirement" that former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway had, leaving football right after winning his second consecutive Super Bowl. But for all the chatter about superstars ruining their legacies by tacking on an extra season or two in some strange, unfamiliar uniform (think Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards or Joe Namath with the Los Angeles Rams), fans seem to enjoy the chance to bid farewell to epic heroes and villains alike, and teams are happy for any excuse to monetize sentimentality.

Read the whole thing here

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  1. There seems to be a lot less fawning, idolatry, and misplaced jerking off than there was for Derek Jeter during his last season. That alone gives me a tiny bit more respect (perhaps the wrong word) for Kobe and cements my opinion that DJ was never as humble as a lot of people made him out to be.

    1. Seriously vomit inducing that was.

    2. Jeter played baseball a d was captain for the Yankees and did not have a rape charge against him. Jeter was in the sweet spot for sport punditry to wax nostalgic for on a sickening fashion that other players do not fall into.

  2. Kobe should have retired two years ago. Jim Buss is a moron and has no business running the Lakers. Jeannie Buss should be in charge. Mitch Kupchak is no Jerry West. The Lakers are a fucking mess. They have some decent young talent, but they get lost in Kobeopolis.

    Love ya’, Kobe. Now get the hell out.

    1. Spoiler: Jeannie Buss is just as dumb as her brother.

    2. The Lakers may be worse than my Sixers, which shouldn’t be possible.

      Though we’ve looked pretty good the last 3 games.

      1. Look what it took though to get to three wins!

        It got to the point the league thought they were bad for business.

    3. +1 Jim Buss’ leadership has been a blight on the franchise. I’m still pissed at David Stern for blocking the CP3 trade, which would have changed much of the last 4 years in the nba.

      Classic example of collectivism failing: The Lakers trade was blocked in the spirit of the new bargaining deal (to not consolidate stars in few cities. New Orleans, who the commissioner was supposedly representing, received less from the Clips trade than the Lakers offered.)

      1. Excellence or the shot at excellence gets killed by leagues from time to time. I stopped watching F1 racing when they decided Ferrari dominance was too much and moved to basically stop it. Heaven forbid the other whining teams actually did something to beat them, you know, through engineering and on the track.

        Dominant teams are hated and must be taken down. Look at the nonsense around the Patriots.

        We like dominance; but not too much of it!

      2. Eh, after losing Paul, NO’s best shot was to bottom out and get a good pick.

        Seriously, wasn’t the big piece they were going to get from the lakers gasol (I don’t think any scernaria had bynum going to them, and that would be the one piece at thr time who you could sell me as a CP3 replacement- a young center who was looking like a solid scorer and dominant rebounder) and pieces?

        Like, parts wise, that is better, but what that would have been was the 6 to 8 seed for two years and a forst round exit.

        Instead, they got worse parts, but this let them reset with davis (also, it is 99% certain that after vetoing that trade the NBA rigged that lottery so NO got the #1).

        Still, the veto was bullshit. If NO wants to make a trade that favors short term over long term (and they basically had to make a trade, Paul wanted out because CP3 is secretly a bit of a jerk), thats their right.

  3. Egomaniacal grandstanding. David Ortiz has already announced that he’ll retire next year, giving plenty of time for the rest of the league to prepare his farewell tour.

    Crap like that makes me respect Barry Sanders’ method of exit; a press release saying ‘I’m done as of now.’ and a trip far away from the media.

    1. After that hit John Lynch put on him, I don’t blame him for making a rapid quiet exit

  4. Chipper Jones had a good retirement tour and he seemed to bow out at the right time.

  5. You’d think they could’ve gotten Derek to write this article.

    1. Also, in my part of the world, we just hit happy fucking new year.
      HFNY you glorious bastards (and bastardettes).

  6. I was going to make a snarky Snake Blisken comment, but I am not because the alt-text is pretty good.

  7. I am going to retire this handle. I’m done waffling. I have a plan to make commenting great again. See you in 2016. Have fun guessing who I am.

    1. Coming back as “pancakes” won’t fool anyone.

      1. But…damn.

      2. My guess for the new handle: “Not Waffles.”

    2. You’re going to build a wall to keep OldMexican out of Hit’n’Run?

    3. “The artist formerly known as Hitler”?

    4. “Black Mamba”?

    5. “#batter” (think about it…)

      “syrup bucket”

      “chicken and”

  8. OT: Gentlemen, there is NO fighting in the War Room……..gainst-vi/

    1. At one point, one of the hecklers, Tyrone “Street Counsel” Barnes, placed his hands around Mr. Muhammad’s neck and pinned him to the ground, according to

      Noted: don’t mess with Street Counsel.

  9. I wouldn’t put Kobe Bryant in same category as Willie Mays or Michael Jordan – Bryant is going out with his franchise instead of flaming out in some forgettable chapter with another team. That is big difference, one that will pay dividends in burnishing Bryant’s reputation for years to come. Watching Favre retire his GB number this past Thanksgiving, one could see regrets of such mistakes in his face: Why did I fart around as a Viking at all? WTF was I thinking!? Bryant will never have to do that.

    Bryant is also first notable retirement of what will probably be remembered as NBA’s High School Era, a time when players skipped the joke that is college and started getting paid for their talents right away – before NCAA and NBA conspired to kill that emergent phenomena. KG started it, LeBron James is other notable bookend of that little epoch, and Kobe will probably be the most-ringed member of that group.

    1. Magic and Bird were better than when you look at all around game then Jordan,they are not such assholes either.They saved the N.B A.

      1. Bird is an asshole.

  10. I’m a long time Celtic fan,back to the last couple years of Bill Russel.I know for a fact Larry Bird and Magic Johnson saved the N.B.A, from demise. I still believe they were the best all around players ever.I saw Bird’s 1986 team and Magic’s 1987 team in Cleveland. The passing and team work was a joy to behold. Both teams had at least 4 members of the top 50.Kobe is and always has been a selfish player.Then again,most N.B.A. champs now rely on one or two players and none have the bench those teams had.

    1. Oh,and Michael Jordan’s an asshole,just watch his hall of fame speech.His teams do not compare to the great Laker and Celtic teams,those to teams own top 50 and hall of fame.

      1. Eh, Michael Jordan is a bit like the old Wall Street tycoons. The point of basketball is winning; the point of Wall Street is to make money. As long as it was within the rules (or the refs didnt catch you) those guys were willing to do it. And they had little tolerance for friends or enemies who they percieved as getting in their way.

        Personally, it may make you a bit of an asshole, but it get libraries named after you and makes you the GOAT.

        Also, 72 wins. Go Bulls.

    2. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. I witnessed it too.

      That’s why I laugh at idiots who claim Bird wasn’t that good.

  11. Screw Kobe Bryant. I haven’t had anything but contempt for him since the 2001 Championship series against Philadelphia. Sorry, you don’t have to get sentimental about your home town, but the Philly area had been very good to Bryant and his immediate response on returning was pure trash talk. The guy is an entitled douche.

    1. But he speaks great Italian!

      Thing is, it was always said Kobe was an introvert, not great with team mates and had a huge ego. Now he’s playing Mr. Nice? I’m confused.

      1. He’s not very likable, and yet he needs to be loved. He’s setting up for something, who knows what. TV announcer? Steak house owner? Either way, he’s a dick, and the transition isn’t going to go smoothly.

        He’s pretty much the opposite of Shaq, one of the coolest guys to ever play the game. I still see that guy at the beach on occasion, and he loves life.

        1. Honestly, it is weird. Kobe wants a career around the game, and I get it because he is a basketball nut.

          But it seems like he would be WAY happier retiring to Italy for a few years, eventually becoming an assistant on some Italian team before coming back to the States as an NBA assistant/HC.

          I don’t think he’ll be happy in a studio in a year, not being able to play and having to make nice with media and guys he used to go hard against every night.

  12. Isn’t ‘Black Mamba’ racist?

    1. No. It is also not racist to always remind people that he forced his way into a woman’s anus.

      1. That explains his high school nickname: The Gerbil

        1. I thought it was Lemmiwinks.

          1. In retrospect, that would have been better, but in re-retrospect, Lemmiwinks didn’t exist yet.

  13. Can we talk for a sec about how funny the Players Tribune is?

    Like, calling the players editors? Yeah, I’m sure Kobe is hopping on the phone after games to chew out a copy editor over a correction they’ll have to print next issue.

    1. I bet he does if he feels slighted. They connect him to the janitor, though.

  14. Is Kobe Bryant’s Retirement Tour:

    A. Sad
    B. Redemptive
    C. Boring

  15. Kobe, due to his introversion and weirdness, is actually an athlete I would love to meet. My read on him is that he is a dick, but some of that stems just from being an introvert- like, he doesn’t go to the club with the other guys because he doesn’t like clubs or people so he’d rather work on his jump shot more. Just, as a fellow introvert, it would be an interesting conversation.

    The athlete I really would love to meet, interview, etc. Is Kareem. The guy fascinates me, mostly because of how he is, in reality, a massively introverted nerd. He read history books on team flights! I’d do that!

    1. I can be introverted and never was much for those things either with my team mates; it does bother them but I was not one of those fluffy party types. They would, for example, get a stripper and then take turns banging her. I wanted no part of that shit. I liked calm, one on one stuff. I also hated ‘raw, raw, raw’ guys and coaches. I found them comical.

      1. So I get what you’re saying and there’s probably a degree of truth to it.

    2. Jesus, Je Suis! Do you really think a conversation between two introverts would make good TV?

  16. his farewell tour is selling out in arenas across the country, which flies in the face of the widely-held theory that fans can’t stand seeing once-great players remain in the game long after their skills have diminished.

    It’s early in the season yet, and he’s playing for a train-wreck of a team. A lot of those other examples were places where the team was on the cusp, and if the dinosaur could bring some of his old magic, he’d be able to get them over the hump.

    Joe Montana’s one year in KC was the exception that proved the rule. Every other case is exactly this (Favre, Jordan, Manning, Namath, T.O., Gretzky…)

  17. Also don’t forget Franco Harris playing his last season in Seattle. That was sad. Even as a Seattle fan I was like, this ain’t right. Always felt bad for the guy.

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